The United Nations Committee Against Torture said in 2007 that “TASER electronic
stun guns are a form of torture that can kill”.
These deadly “forms of torture”, which are now part of policing in every Australian state, killed again on March 18.
Twenty-one year old Brazilian student Roberto Laudisio Curti died after six police officers chased him down a Sydney street, capsicum-sprayed him, and then tasered him in the back.
Police say Curti, who was unarmed, “may” have been involved in a robbery of “a packet
of biscuits” from a convenience store. However Assistant Police Commissioner Mark Walton said on March 18: “It’s unclear as to the involvement of this man or the extent of that actual incident.”
On March 24, a worker (who wanted to remain anonymous) at the convenience store told SBS News that police had got the wrong person and Curti had not stolen the biscuits.
Curti’s death is at least the fifth death in Australia after a taser shooting. Other killings include the June 2009 death of mentally ill Antonio Galeano, who was tasered up to 28 times before dying of a heart attack.
Last month, Amnesty International called for restrictions on Taser use in the US. It said more than 500 people had died since 2001 after being shocked with Tasers.
Proponents of Tasers argue they are preferable to police using guns when confronted by dangerous criminals.
However, a 2008 US Amnesty report that looked at hundreds of deaths following Taser use found 90% of those who died were unarmed.
The evidence indicates police do not use Tasers as an alternative to deadly force.
Indeed, police guidelines specifically rule out Taser use when someone attacks police with a weapon — the one circumstance where it could be argued that Taser use is a preferable, less lethal choice than a gun.
Multinational manufacturer Taser International (TI) defines Tasers as “non-lethal”. This definition is taken from that bastion of non-deadly restraint — the US military.
The definition doesn’t mean the weapon cannot kill, only that it is not meant to kill.
Even police admit Tasers are not used in place of guns. Acting NSW Police Commissioner Alan Clarke told the March 19 Sydney Morning Herald: “We couldn’t say that every time we use a Taser it has saved us from using a firearm.”
The results of Taser use in the US give no reason to think Tasers are a safer option. A 2009 study into the California police found that in the five years after Tasers were introduced, in-custody sudden deaths rose by more than 600%. There was no change in the injury level to officers and no decrease in firearms-related deaths.
In NSW, Tasers were used 126 times in 2008, rising to 1169 times by 2010.
Compliance and torture
Despite claims of “strict guidelines”, Tasers are being normalised into everyday policing. They are not used in self-defence, but to enforce compliance and even to torture police captives.
Curti had no weapon. He did not attack or even approach police. At most, he may have been involved in a petty crime. But police tasered him in the back as he fled.
In 2008, closed circuit cameras recorded nine WA police surrounding Aboriginal man Kevin Spratt as he was tasered at least 13 times. Spratt, who was unarmed, was already in custody. He had refused a strip search.
Spratt was tasered a further 11 times in a second incident a week later. He ended up in hospital with a punctured lung. Two police involved in the incidents were fined a total of $1950.
In the US in 2008, a handcuffed man, Baron Pikes, was shocked to death after being tasered nine times. His body went limp after seven shocks.
In 2009, a small, 72-year-old Texan woman was brutally tasered by a male police officer. The assault was captured on video.
Last September, a 19-year-old woman who was handcuffed tried to flee Florida police. A police officer within reach of the handcuffed woman tasered her without warning. She fell to the ground, striking her head, leaving her in a vegetative state.
A 2010 WA Corruption and Crime Commission report said police had used Tasers disproportionately against Aboriginal people.
Dennis Eggington of the WA Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS) said in 2010 that he knew of several other Taser attacks on Aboriginal people, including a young, heavily pregnant Aboriginal woman who was tasered several times and a man tasered between the eyes who caught fire and suffered serious burns.
Eggington told Perthnow.com that the crime commission’s findings proved “our people are being targeted” for Taser use.
Of the five Taser-related deaths in Australia, two of the victims were Aboriginal men.
The inquiry into Curti’s death is another case of police investigating police. The Ombudsman will oversee the police’s review, but it will be the police who will conduct interviews and take statements from their own.
And they will be investigating an issue — the use of Tasers — that police have clearly expressed support for. This bodes poorly for a just, unbiased outcome.
Greens MLC David Shoebridge said on March 18 that there had been an escalation in Taser use by police, but there has been no cut in firearm use.
He said: “Taser use has not displaced firearms use to make citizens safer, instead it is being used together with firearms in an escalation of police force.”
Shoebridge called for a review into Tasers in NSW, and the NSW Council for Civil Liberties said there should be an immediate moratorium on Taser use.
The evidence is clear: Tasers are deadly. They are used overwhelmingly against unarmed people, against the mentally ill, against Aboriginal people and other vulnerable targets.
Police use Tasers in addition to firearms, not instead of. And they are not used in self-defence, but to force compliance.
If anything, the evidence against Tasers has been understated due to cover-ups by police and the aggressive corporate tactics used to roll out Tasers in Australia and globally.